In sentences like:

The scientists came to realize that they were opening up a worm can.

I came to understand that he was lying to us all the time.

Can come to mean gradually? I have checked the dictionaries but have not found this sense up to now.

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    The whole phrase "came to understand" means that he gradually understood that. Of course, by itself the phrase "come to" does not have the meaning "gradually". – CowperKettle Sep 4 '16 at 10:08
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    related question on ELU – CowperKettle Sep 4 '16 at 10:11

The construction 'to come to + realise/understand' means has roughly the same meaning as:

To come/begin/start to + realise/understand

E.g: If after a while (a period of time) you were beginning to realise/understand someone was lying to you all the time, you could say:

I began/started/came to realise/understand that he was lying to us all the time

Usually "came to/start to/begin to" do imply a gradual realisation or understanding, so gradually or after an extended period are good descriptions.

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